July 24, 2019 Hangout announcement: “Laboratories of democracy”

The next SAA Records Management Section Hangout will be on Wednesday, July 24, at 1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 noon Central/11:00 AM Mountain on our section’s YouTube page. Our topic is “Laboratories of democracy: Records management and the public at the state and local levels.”

Federal records issues have dominated the news for the last couple years. But on a daily basis, the records management decisions made by state and local government officials affects citizens’ daily lives in dramatic ways. While all Americans have similar access abilities to federal records, the enormous variation in records management practices and freedom of information laws between states and local governments mean that citizens in one jurisdiction might be able to access one set of records that citizens in another jurisdiction may not have the same ability to access.

All are welcome to join the Society of American Archivists Records Management section in a discussion with Sarah Jacobson (Texas State Library and Archives Commission) and Kathy Marquis (Wyoming State Archives) about transparency and public interest regarding records at the local and state levels. We will be monitoring the YouTube comments section and Twitter for questions for our speakers. Please use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter to ensure maximum visibility for your question, or leave it as a comment ahead of time at the RMS Blog. Look forward to seeing you there!


Resourceful Records Managers

Finally… an installment of resourceful records managers! This time we are featuring Holly Dolan, Denton County – Records Management Officer! If you want to be featured, please fill out the form here.


1. What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?

Like so many records managers, I kind of fell into it! In my last semester of grad school I began searching for job options that would leverage my information and data management skills. I always assumed I would end up working for an academic library, archives, or similar cultural heritage institution. When a management position opened up with Denton County’s Records Management division, I was attracted to the idea of learning more about local government and the aspect of working with government information. At the time, I didn’t understand the depth of the Records and Information Management field, so I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way!

2. What is your educational background?

I hold a MS in Library Science as well as a graduate certificate in Digital Curation and Data Management from the University of North Texas. My undergraduate degree was in Art History. I’m sure that my love of historical preservation is a product of my art background.

3. Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?

Wow, where do I start? My career has been shaped by several wonderful women who have acted as role models and provided support and guidance to help me overcome my constantly-looming impostor syndrome. I can’t name them all here, but I’ll give a special shout out to Nancy Lenoil and Jennifer Pickler. A little over a year ago I signed up for SAA’s Mentor Program and was matched with Nancy Lenoil, the State Archivist of California. I can’t believe I got so lucky. She has been amazing in helping me grow as a RIM professional. Not only has Nancy helped me navigate the records and archives world, she’s taught me a lot about how to manage people. My boss, Jennifer Pickler, has become a key support figure in my career. I honestly never thought I would climb the ladder so quickly, so I’ve needed some extra help to feel confident in my decision making. Among the many lessons she’s taught me, the most important has been: work to the best of your ability, and at the end of the day go home and enjoy the things that make you happiest in life.

4. What is your role at your institution?

I’m Denton County’s Records Management Officer. I work for the County’s Technology Services department and manage the Records Management Division. As Records Management Officer for the county, I’m in charge of coordinating our Records Management Program in the more than 90 business units that we serve. My main functions are consultation, training, and running the Denton County Records Center which currently holds over 34,000 boxes of government records.

5. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The thing I enjoy the most is providing training and outreach. Most of my customers are internal to the County, so a big part of my job is training people how to efficiently manage their records. Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to fit policy information into an easily digestible format. I hold instructor-led “Records Management 101” classes about once a month. I love getting feedback from the trainees saying that they expected the class to be boring, but ended up enjoying it.

6. What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?

I think my biggest advice is to do a bit of research and make sure that it’s right for you. Records Management is much more policy-heavy than other archival professions. To flourish in this career, you really need to take pride in following the rules.

7. Do you belong to any professional organizations (SAA, ARMA…)?

Along with SAA, I’m also a member of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) and the American Library Association (ALA).

8. What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?

I think one of our biggest challenges in this field is learning how to work with technology rather than against it. I often see records managers panicking every time a new piece of technology has implications on their policies. At the end of the day, records management is about efficiency and transparency. By rejecting the efficiency that certain technology provides, we’re working against these goals. I also think that, by catastrophizing when new technology is introduced, we’re sending the wrong message to our stakeholders about our purpose in the organization and potentially alienating decision makers. I think we need to get better at putting our problem solving skills to work and finding realistic ways to leverage new technology to achieve the goals of efficiency and transparency.

9. Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?

When I’m not at work I might be enjoying the outdoors, playing tabletop games, or spending time with my favorite humans and pets.

10. Do you have a quote you live by?

“We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.” –Leslie Knope


GDPR Primer

A few weeks ago, Chuck Piotrwoski of PIOT presented a great webinar on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Although we weren’t able to record the session, he kindly provided his slides for sharing.

Chuck broke down GDPR into several basic principles:

  • data about a person belongs to the person
  • an organization can only work with personal data if permitted by law or with the consent of the individual

GDPR builds on the European Union’s 2007 Charter of Fundamental Rights, in which Title II (Freedoms) addresses privacy concerns:

Title II of 2007 Charter of Fundamental Rights

Chuck explained that GDPR protections applies to organizations that handle the personal data of EU individuals, regardless of where the organization is located.  For instance, if a researcher from Oxford pays for a scan from a U.S. archive, the personal data collected for this transaction is protected by GDPR.  Here’s the list Chuck provided of examples of personal data that are protected:

GDPR personal data

Chuck suggested all organizations begin with four basic tenets:

GDPR tenets

If you’re interested in gauging your situation, Chuck pointed to a data protection self assessment provided by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office.

Here are the most important points I took away from this webinar:

  • Integrating data privacy training into overall organizational training is more effective than specialized training because it’s more likely to get embedded into how people work.
  • Consent by individuals to collect personal data must be explicitly given — an opt-in model rather than the opt-out model frequently embraced in the U.S.
  • The process must be easy for individuals to withdraw their consent for an organization to hold personal data.
  • An organization must explain why it is collecting personal data.
  • There are currently no flawless automating tools for removing personal data.
  • Data erasure can be refused if the public good outweighs the need for privacy.

If you work for an organization that would be affected by these regulations, you may want to look at the To Do section of the slides Chuck provided.  He also listed some other resources at the end of his presentation.  Thanks for the great learning opportunity, Chuck!



“We’re all mad here”: Google Team Drives

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland / 
Public Domain

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.”

Chapter 6, Alice in Wonderland

Let me candid: I was not pleased with this announcement. 

I am not in IT and I certainly cannot fathom providing technological solutions to an institution as large, diverse and decentralized as the University of Michigan. Yet to give unfettered access to a shared storage service with nothing but a small page of “Best Practices” to read from…is this really what we need? Another – albeit virtual – basement to stuff documents into? Annoyed, my eye twitching a little, I closed my computer and went home for the evening.

The next day (and with a cooler head), I considered how we should address this potential new recordkeeping challenge.

ITS is focused upon providing technical solutions for records and information storage—> Archivists are charged with the identification of records and information of enduring historical value —> Records and information management is as much about understanding human behavior and bureaucratic processes as it is about the records and information —> I know how people are going to use Google Team Drives and….

This is when it hit me. I don’t actually know how people are going to use Google Team Drive. I don’t actually even know if IT knows about the University Archives outside of “old things”. 

This realization has inspired an outline of a plan. I need evidence to support or disprove my assumptions.

Plan Part I.

ITS provides a comparison matrix to assist members of the University community to make decisions as to what collaboration and document storage services they need. We can build upon this framework and evaluate these services against additional high-level business needs for managing digital records. Once completed, perhaps ITS will be better positioned to spread word of the services offered by University Archives and Records Management Program. Perhaps they’ll even see the value in evaluating future services by the same criteria.

(see NARA’s Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements for inspiration.)

Plan Part II.

Find out how Google Team Drives is being used across campus. If approved, a large-scale study would at the very least involve cooperation from many parties including: IT, IT divisions within each school and college, administrative leadership, and staff from across a wide variety of business areas.

As this is still only a sketch of a plan, I am very interested in hearing from anyone* who is:

  • Currently experiencing the roll out of Google Team Drives
  • Has survived the roll out of Google Team Drives
  • Is currently reviewing Google Team Drives
  • Have developed a set of workarounds e.g., recommended apps that extend the functionality of Google Apps for Education
  • Has a set of ERM requirements to share or recommend
  • Uses Google Team Drives in your own work

*Although I work in a public higher education system, we all have experienced similar challenges and concerns in our work. I value your thoughts, reactions, and questions! Feel free to message me at ecarron@umich.edu or via Twitter at @heyellee.

Records Management Section by Location

color-coded map of RMS membersAfter taking a look at the types of institutions for which Records Management Section members work, I decided to look at the same February 2019 membership list to determine where we live.  (Or work — looks like some folks live in one place and work in another, and it’s not obvious from the data which address was entered.)  Once again, there are gaps because some members didn’t enter addresses; where possible, I identified the state if it were obvious from the institution listed.

I’m happy to report that we have representation from all parts of the United States.  In addition to the 50 states plus the District of Columbia illustrated on the map, we also show members hailing from many international locales, including:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Great Britain
  • Hungary
  • Japan

SAA’s Records Management Section Membership

In honor of Records and Information Management (RIM) Month, I did a little analysis of the membership of SAA’s Records Management Section.  I began this project in February by looking at the members signed up for the Records Management Section on SAA’s Connect community.  At that point, there were 1,324 members.

graph of SAA RMS membershipI broke down the membership into four categories, and I gleaned this information from what registrants entered as their Company Name.  (Close to 300 of those listed did not indicate their place of employment, so they do not appear in my graph.)

  • academic — This includes anything with school, college, or university in the name including affiliated medical facilities.  Many registrants list only the top level in their company name, so I made no attempt to differentiate between those who work at a university archives vs. those who teach vs. those who have some other role at a university.
  • business
  • cultural/nonprofit — This includes archives, libraries, and museums that are not affiliated with academic institutions along with historical societies and religious organizations.
  • government — I tried to make educated guesses about which entities are government-funded vs. those that are private organizations.  Although some academic institutions are also government entities, they are only counted in the academic list.

I’m happy to report there are now over 1,500 members registered for the Records Management Section.  Let’s keep growing!

In case anyone wants to sponsor some get-togethers to celebrate RIM month, I can also identify locales that have high concentrations of RMS members (15+):

  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston, MA (including Cambridge)
  • Chicago, IL
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY (even greater when you include Bronx, Brooklyn, and other nearby locations)
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC (even greater when you include Arlington, VA and Bethesda, MD and other environs)

Stay tuned to this blog as well as the listserv for more nods to RIM month.

How (not) to schedule electronic messages: Part II

Act 2: In Which Your Records Manager Gets Ahead of Himself, Thereby Tripping on His Own Feet

When last we checked in with the case of the unscheduled communications, your intrepid hero* had received a brief to write a memo to the City Information Management Committee explaining the “hidden costs” of email retention, and had scheduled a meeting with his boss (the City Clerk), the City CIO, and the assistant City Attorney who deals with records issues to hammer out a scheduling solution for text messages. The memo itself was easy, because the content is pretty much textbook records management best practice. You can read it here, or you can see my clever Prezi utilizing a “tip of the iceberg” visual metaphor here.  (Regrettably I did not get to use this at the actual presentation because I didn’t finish it with enough time to clear it with my boss. But the information is still good!) I framed the issue in terms of time=money, specifically that employee time searching = that employee’s hourly wage x the amount of time searching for the total cost of retrieving records. Two complications did come up but were easily answered:

  • We can charge back ‘reasonable’ search fees over $50 for public records requests: true, but is doing so good customer service? The City Clerk’s office is trying to push the idea of cutting through red tape to allow the public to work more easily with government, so this argument resonated, I think. Plus, of course, Wisconsin State Law prevents us from passing on redaction/review costs to the requestor, so any time spent on that because of inadequate information screening was a cost the city had to eat anyway.
  • Email (and probably eventually texts) is physically managed by a SaaS provider. This kind of threw my “costs of running the server, costs of paying someone to run the server, costs of maintaining good digital preservation practices” arguments out the window, since Microsoft includes unlimited(!) email archives storage space with the package that the city purchased. I decided to leave the question of the environmental cost of storage to another day, but I was able to point out that “unlimited” really meant “unlimited until you reach an arbitrary cap, or the vendor decides to change the terms of service” (I think we’ve all had a bait-and-switch ‘unlimited’ mobile data plan…). Beyond that, if the City ever moved on to a new system, the cost of migration would suddenly bring the size of the email archives to be brought over into sharp relief.

So much for the written component. Now I had to prep for the meeting and make my case for appropriate retention schedules. I did an informal environmental scan and quickly determined that some sort of two-tier retention scheme was going to be the only way to manage the vast quantity of texts and emails that would need to be addressed. Using examples from the State of Wisconsin, the newly-approved Wisconsin municipal records schedule, and NARA’s Capstone model, I put together the below chart comparing solutions, and paired that with a couple of sample schedules to bring to the meeting. Text ChartFair enough… but once we got to the meeting, I ran into continued resistance to implementing any of my suggested solutions. IT didn’t want to get into the business of classifying texts and emails; legal was concerned about the transition from the active system to a separate archive down in City Records; my team doesn’t really have the time or skillset to review texts to the extent needed; none of us were confident that we could leave records declaration or classification to users. We decided that as a first step, we would try to submit a schedule giving all text messages a retention of 6 months, on the theory that that time period would give us time to put holds on relevant texts, but would not require us to hold onto the irrelevant ones for too long.

I was all set to put something together, but there was one hitch: I was asked not to include my standard disclaimer for series like this, “if a record is associated with a series governed by another schedule, retain it according to that schedule.” The consensus was that the disclaimer would be confusing to end users and would not be followed in any case, and that I should submit a straight 6 months schedule and hope for the best.

I am, sadly, not as cool as Jeff Goldblum, but it’s still an appropriate GIF.

….Reader, I tried. I really did. I solicited advice from other records colleagues in Wisconsin; I asked around the Records Management Think Tank for their experience with scheduling texts under a restriction like this; I sent out requests to the RMS list and to Twitter for more policies. I couldn’t find anything that supported a *blanket* 6-month retention for all texts. As I wrestled with the language for a single schedule, I thought back to the Matthew Yglesias article about exempting email from discovery that I so thoroughly mocked on this blog lo these many years ago. If every text is retained six months, with no consideration for content, what stops people from using texts for everything, with a high likelihood that evidence of questionable texts is erased from the City logs after a certain period of time? At the same time, how can anyone possible go through all of the texts being sent by city employees to determine value? I decided at this point to play the same percentage game that NARA is playing with Capstone for emails—the significant/historically important texts, such as they are, are more likely to originate from accounts higher up in the hierarchy, so it makes sense to retain those archivally (possibly deaccessioning later through use of machine learning or similar); the rest could stay at 6 months. As such, when it came time to submit schedules, I turned in not one text schedule, but two—one for Elected Officials and Critical Staff, and one for everyone else.


Here’s your takeaway for today’s installment: do not blindside your stakeholders on schedule creation. In retrospect, I absolutely should have held on to those schedules until such time as I had a chance to consult with the relevant parties and explain to them why I thought one schedule was so problematic. I suppose I was anxious to get something through the approval process, which can take up to 6 months between City and State approval, which is why I didn’t wait, but the effect of my impatience was to anger EVERYONE involved. The CIO was annoyed because of the technical capacities that I assumed in my schedules (IT had since decided not to pursue a contract with the vendor of the solution described). The assistant city attorney was annoyed because he thought I overstated the ramifications of having only one schedule for all text messages. Everyone was annoyed because I made this change unilaterally and submitted it for approval without so much as a by-your-leave.

I own it—this was absolutely an unforced error. I 100% should not have rushed to get something/anything approved without checking in with the stakeholders about major changes. I stand by my reasoning for putting in a two-tiered schedule for text messages, and I did not withdraw the schedules at that time, but I almost certainly poisoned the well for getting the schedules actually approved by CIMC. Principles and best practices are all well and good, but they don’t do anyone any good if they alienate the people you need to sign on in support. Plus, of course, as it stands the retention of text messages is sort of the Wild West, so I’m not doing myself any favors delaying it for that reason either.

Next time (tomorrow?): Brad tries to make up for lost ground, plus the followup meeting/discussion and where we go from here.

*Possibly the first time anyone has referred to a records manager as “intrepid”. Definitely the last time.